Having comprehensively accounted for two South African teams in the last fortnight the Crusaders head to the Republic having rediscovered their form. But the Stormers will be bristling with confidence after over-coming the table-topping Brumbies last weekend, and will be looking to establish some consistency this weekend at Newlands.
As these two giants of Super Rugby get set to do battle this weekend we’ve asked Stormers’ fan Brad Smith, from sports blog ‘In The Pub‘ to go head-to-head with our own Tim Cronin, a true Crusaders’ supporter, with their thoughts and predictions ahead of this big match up.
|How important is this game in the scheme of the overall competition?|
|As we have frequently seen in recent history, both the Stormers and the Crusaders have had a knack for ending up amongst the top of the table at the end of the league phase of Super Rugby competitions. Thus Saturday’s encounter will once again give us an inkling as to who the final contenders will be, come the business end of the competition. Although both of these teams can still qualify if they lose the encounter, it is vital that both teams maintain momentum, and pick up log points at this stage of the competition. A win from the Stormers on Saturday will deliver the much needed belief that they can in fact go on to win the trophy that has eluded them for so long.||For the Crusaders it is critical. Just when they get their campaign up and running and start stringing some wins together they face the daunting task of a trip to South Africa. An unsuccessful tour will derail their campaign completely, while positive results will give them the confidence to go a long way in this year’s competition.|
|What strengths do your side bring to this encounter?|
|This year the Stormers have illustrated that they can create opportunities to score tries off front foot ball. And this is in no small part thanks to the Stormers import from Gauteng, Elton Jantjies. Jantjies provides another string in the Stormers bow and if the Stormers are to be successful on Saturday it will be due to their ability to be penetrating on attack, and solid in defence. In particular, the Stormers will likely use their strong ball carriers and forwards to execute the rolling maul to good effect on the weekend, and fans can expect Andries Bekker to be ever present at lineout time.||A gameplan. It took them a couple of weeks to really execute their gameplan, but in the last two weeks we’ve seen the Crusaders really find their feet with their commitment to playing with ‘width’. Their ability to successfully apply this game plan boils down to each and every one of their players, from fullback to front-rower, having the fundamental passing and ball0-handling skills to spread the ball and retain possession for phase after phase, and then pounce on the opportunities when they eventually, and inevitably, open up.|
|What weaknesses do the opposition have which your side will look to exploit this weekend?|
|To say the Crusaders team has weaknesses, is like saying Jacques Kallis has a fear of scoring runs. The Crusaders have been the benchmark team in Super Rugby since the inception of the competition, and their track record backs up this view. However, this game against the Stormers will see the Canterbury men without their superstar Dan Carter, and old warhorse and skipper Kieran Read. With the loss of Richie McCaw this year the Crusaders may lack leadership, and thus their ability to execute their game plan this weekend may suffer. That said, the quality of the Crusaders squad is clear for all to see, and the replacements are expected to make meaningful contributions.||There’s so much talk about how defence-orientated the Stormers are, but they showed last weekend they can score plenty of points on their day. The key question will be whether they can keep up with the pace the Crusaders will look to set. The visitors’ strategy will rely on running the big South Africans all over the field in the hope they will tire or find themselves out of position.|
|Who will be the key player for your team?|
|Last week Elton Jantjies set up two tries for the Stormers through well-timed and skilful passes putting runners into space. The move of Jean De Villiers back to inside centre on the return of Juan De Jongh has had a hugely positive effect on Jantjies’s game and he will be critical to his team’s fortunes this weekend. However, the key player for this encounter will be Andries Bekker. If Bekker can upset the Crusaders at the lineout and also make good yards with ball in hand the Stormers will have a good platform to allow their backs to capitalise. Bekker scored two quality tries last week, and a repeat performance is really the ultimate gift to Stormers fans before he departs to Japan at the end of the Super Rugby season.||I think Matt Todd needs a huge game. While the Crusaders have planned for Richie McCaw’s absence the loss of Kieran Read will have been a bitter blow, and the loose-forwards really need to step up. On his day Todd can be stunning in his ability to get over the tackled player and challenge for the ball, and without Read to inspire the rest of the forwards it would be timely if this weekend’s game was one of those occasions. Look for Jordan Taufua to make an impact from the bench on debut too. The former NZ U20 star is dynamic off the back of the scrum, and gives every team he plays for fantastic go-forward.|
|How will the match unfold?|
|If the Stormers are able to get off to the good start which they’ve so desperately needed in recent times, they have the ability to hang on for a tight win. However, regardless of how the match progresses, this game will be an incredibly tight affair, with 5-10% margins in each facet of the game deciding who will win this encounter. The Crusaders will scrum the Stormers off the park. None of the front rowers in Cape Town can match Wyatt Crockett and Franks in the front row. That said, the Stormers will have lineout dominance, with Bekker illustrating his fine form at the moment. The struggle at the breakdown will be tightly contested, but the Crusaders have better ball stealing prowess and I expect them to disrupt a lot of the Stormers possession. A full strength Stormers backline can match the Crusaders, but the Stormers have lost Bryan Habana, and it is likely that Gio Aplon will miss the match after taking a heavy hit from the Brumbies 8th man Fotu Auelua last week. However, the Crusaders are also missing key players, and thus the battle of the backlines is up for grabs. The major differentiators on Saturday may be home ground advantage and travel fatigue. Newlands has been a fortress for the Stormers, but the Crusaders certainly do enjoy a lot of local support. This will be a tight encounter, with the Stormers squeaking a thriller. Hang on to your hats folks.28-25 Stormers.||The Crusaders will need to start fast, as the effects of a long trip to the Republic will inevitably feature in the final 20. Look for the Crusaders to counter-attack from the get-go, and try to establish their width pattern early-on. It will be a helter-skelter opening spell, and the Crusaders will need a couple of things to go their way if they are to nab some early points.
It will be a taxing, physical affair, and both sides will trade penalties throughout the middle period of the game. I think the Crusaders can hang-on at the end, but it’s going to be tight! My pick? Crusaders, 36-27